Have you been trying to conceive naturally for 12 months, and it hasn’t happened? Been to your GP, who hasn’t really given you an explanation for why, but refers you on to IVF specialists.
It’s a story I hear from my patients all the time. Before you take the step into the IVF journey and beyond, take a look at these 5 natural therapy based strategies to improve your chances of falling pregnant pre-IVF and during an IVF cycle.
1. Address any hormonal conditions: Such as PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids, hypothalamic amenorrhea, adenomyosis and thyroid.
These conditions can be managed well through lifestyle, nutrition and specific supplementation.
I have written another blog post on our website, which goes into more depth on managing these.
2. Reducing Xenoestrogens: Xenoestrogens are endocrine disruptors that interfere with our natural hormonal balance. They block out, and mimic our own hormones.
Unfortunately, they are found frequently in our everyday environment and we really must make a conscious effort to avoid them.
Some common ones are; skin care products, make-up, cleaning products, non-organic produce, EFTPOS receipts and plastic containers.
By reducing these toxic disrupters, your hormonal cycle will stay more balanced.
3. Improve Sperm Health: Sperm health is important and goes beyond just conceiving.
It also plays a vital role in the health of the overall pregnancy, and the baby. A successful IVF pregnancy needs healthy sperm. Sperm health includes sperm count, morphology (structure) and motility (movement).
The life cycle of sperm is only 72 days so men can improve the quality of their sperm within just a few months.
All the lifestyle and nutrition modifications I’ve spoken about apply equally to men, as much as women. Minimising alcohol, quitting smoking and eating an anti-inflammatory diet are crucial to IVF success, as well as regular exercise.
There are some key nutritional compounds that are necessary for sperm health such as:
Zinc – plays a role in regulating sperm count and quality. Foods high in zinc are oysters, red meat and poultry, shellfish, nuts and beans.
Folate – Low folate levels can damage sperm DNA, lower sperm densities and sperm counts. Foods high in folate are leafy green veggies, fruits, nuts and beans.
B12 – is important for overall sperm health, improving sperm motility, increasing sperm count and reduces DNA damage.
Vitamin C – is an antioxidant that improves sperm motility, count and morphology. Foods high in vitamin C are citrus fruits, other fruits such as kiwi, strawberries, cantaloupe and vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and jacket potatoes.
Vitamin D – supplementation when deficient, has been shown to increase testosterone and improve sperm motility.
Vitamin E – its antioxidant action protects sperm from damage and may help improve the quality.
Omega 3 fatty acids – enhance sperm count, motility and morphology. Foods high in omega 3’s are fish and seafood, nuts and seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds.
CoQ10 - has been shown to improve sperm quality in men who are infertile.
4. Improving ovarian function: While there is no way to increase the number of eggs you have, you can certainly improve the quality of them.
It takes around 120 days for the chosen egg to mature and potentially be fertilised.
This is the time frame we should use to enhance our egg quality.
IVF has traditionally intervened at the last 2-4 weeks, which is too late to improve the quality.
Lifestyle modifications are extremely important; good sleep, stress management, real, whole foods, an anti-inflammatory diet, blood sugar regulation, moderate exercise and social support.
Additionally, there are some supplements that have been researched which show promising results.
CoQ10’s action in the mitochondria has been shown to improve egg quality, by giving them sufficient energy to propel to healthy growth. It’s also useful as an antioxidant, protecting the egg from oxidative stress.
Melatonin can boost antioxidant status in the body, encourage ovarian function and aid in sleep.
Fish oil (EPA/DHA) can help produce higher quality eggs and help reproductive function in advanced maternal age.
L-arginine is an amino acid that has been shown in studies to increase ovarian response, endometrial receptivity and pregnancy rates in IVF.
Myo-inositol has been shown to help modulate insulin in the body which can significantly affect ovulation. It helps improve glucose metabolism, improve egg quality which increases fertilisation.
Glutathione is the master antioxidant and detoxifier in the body. Adequate amounts are needed for protective capabilities of the chosen egg. Oxidative stress can interfere with hormone levels and overall ovarian health.
Royal jelly is a fertility superfood which may help increase follicular growth and development in ovaries due to its antioxidant and estrogenic effects.
A practitioner standard pregnancy multivitamin is important to ensure optimal maternal health as well as egg health and quality.
Be sure to be guided by a qualified practitioner with these supplements, in relation to your specific health circumstances.
5. Methylation: Is a biochemical process in the body that effects vitamin B12 and folate utilisation, neurotransmitter synthesis, regulation of gene expression, hormone activity and immune system regulation among other things.
As you can see it is very important for ‘normal’ functioning of the body systems.
Any defect in methylation can affect fertility, but especially the MTHFR gene.
I myself had a defect on this gene which may have been contributing to my infertility.
It can affect implantation, oocyte (egg) immaturity and poor early embryo quality.
It has also been associated with low ovarian reserve, diminished response to follicular stimulation and reduced chance of live birth after IVF.
The good news is, there are lab tests you can do to find out if you have MTHFR, and other gene defects, which you can manage through the right nutrition and supplementation.
If you do have MTHFR it is essential you are taking activated folate, not to be mistaken by folic acid.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate and can be toxic to someone with MTHFR.
For more details on this I have written another blog post on our website.
You can increase your food intake of folate by eating more leafy greens, asparagus, eggs, beets, brussel sprouts, broccoli, beef liver, spinach avocado and legumes.
I feel like there is a massive gap between going to your GP and being referred to an IVF clinic.
All the above topics should be addressed when conceiving naturally hasn’t happened in 6-12 months and IVF used as a last option.
Sometimes these things will work and conceiving naturally will happen. Sometimes there’s deeper issues, and IVF is a really great option.
Either way, by following these guidelines, you’ll give yourself the best possible chance of a successful pregnancy.